Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial
Hotspots Near You

331. Upper Mississippi River refuges, Iowa and Illinois

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and other public lands offer many great birding opportunities.

I dream of spending several weeks combing every shoreline, wetland, prairie, and upland forest of the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, as well as nearby public lands. Even if you don’t have weeks, the region offers an ideal Big Day of birding.

Green Island is a vast floodplain of the Mississippi with small pools, large lakes, and dozens of productive seasonal “floodles.” Managed corn fields feed migratory waterfowl. Access roads make birding easy. I like to park and walk long stretches of gravel roads along the edges of wet meadows and ponds, combing the shores and treelines for the array of migrating songbirds in the spring and fall, nesting waterfowl in the summer, and the northern birds that overwinter here.

Mississippi Palisades State Park in Illinois offers breathtaking views of the river. The Sentinel Trail, which links with both the Pine and Prairie Trails, has been most productive for spring ephemeral wildflowers and woodland warblers.

Fulton Lock and Dam (aka Lock and Dam 13) is one of the best eagle-viewing places in the lower 48 states. Hundreds of eagles and tens of thousands of waterfowl are found here in winter.

A Big Day with 100 species and thousands of birds is doable, especially if you pause at several of the other refuge access points between Green Island, the Palisades, and Lock and Dam 13.

331. Upper Mississippi River refuges, Iowa and Illinois

Directions

The refuges and parks in this area are accessible via Highways 67, 52, 64, 84, and other local roads.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
42° 9’0.17″N 90°17’10.47″W

Habitat

Upland and wet forests; wet, mesic, and dry prairies; open water; and cattail meadows.

Terrain

Many miles of good gravel roads for hiking and/or car birding, mostly flat.

Birds

Spring migrants: Blackburnian, Black-and-white, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Nashville Warblers, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Golden-Plover. Nesting: Common Yellowthroat, Baltimore Oriole, Great Crested Flycatcher, Pileated Woodpecker, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser. Fall migrants: Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Philadelphia Vireo. Winter: Bald Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, American Tree Sparrows, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark, Trumpeter Swan.

When to go

Year-round.

Amenities

Mississippi Palisades State Park has restrooms, campgrounds, and other amenities. Green Island has no facilities. Bring snacks, water, and other essentials. Lodging, restaurants available in Clinton, Iowa, and Savanna or Fulton, Illinois.

Access

No entrance fee or permission required. Open dawn to dusk, parking available. Limited access during duck- and deer-hunting seasons (check for details).

Tips

Dress for the season. Mosquitos can be problematic as summer progresses. A scope for scanning open water is a bonus.

For more info

Savanna District Office, (815) 273-2732.

Mississippi Palisades State Park

← Back to Hotspots

Brian “Fox” Ellis

Brian “Fox” Ellis

Brian “Fox” Ellis is a storyteller, an author, and a naturalist who performs as John James Audubon, Charles Darwin, and Meriwether Lewis. Fox is a highly sought keynote speaker at regional and international conferences including the International Wetlands Conservation Conference, National Science Teachers Association Conference and the North American Prairie Conservation Conference, et al. Fox is also the Artistic Director for Prairie Folklore Theatre, a unique theatre company that celebrates ecology and history through original musical theatre productions. He is the author of 16 books, including the critically acclaimed Learning From the Land: Teaching Ecology Through Stories and Activities, (Libraries Unlimited, 2011) and the award-winning children’s picture book The Web at Dragonfly Pond, (DAWN Publications, 2006).

Brian “Fox” Ellis on social media